11:51 28 Jan 2004
Livewire: On death and dying, on the Web
By Lisa Baertlein
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Death and taxes are the only
things we can be sure of, the saying goes.
As it turns out, preparing for our own death or making arrangements
for a loved one, like preparing taxes, is being done more often
San Francisco writer James A. Martin still remembers leaving
the funeral parlor with his father's ashes in a brown cardboard
box, a standard way of packaging cremated remains if an urn has
not yet been purchased.
"It was so undignified," Martin said. "Dad was
a dignified Southern gentleman."
|When a close friend died last summer without leaving clear
instructions on whether he wanted to be buried or cremated,
Martin, who was marking the 10th anniversary of his father's
passing, decided he needed to make some plans of his own.
"I did not want my loved ones picking me up at a funeral
home in a cardboard box," said Martin. He turned to the Internet
At California-based Renaissance Urn Co. (http://www.renaissanceurns.com),
he found something that helped to ease his mind: A cream-colored
silk cover, which one day will hold the box containing his remains.
"It makes me feel so much better that I've got this product
that will give me some dignity," said Martin, adding that,
had it not been for the Internet, he would not have taken the
time to make the rounds of funeral homes to find what he was looking
BLENDING TECHNOLOGY AND TRADITION
Steve Palmer, owner of Westcott Funeral Home (http://westcottfuneralhome.com)
in Cottonwood, Arizona, has run a Web site for two years.
Palmer said he gets many questions via e-mail and that the Web
can be very useful for gathering information before making a decision.
He strongly suggests that people check out service providers,
such as those who offer cremation, using state licensing Web sites
or other means.
"You have no idea who's on the other end," Palmer said.
Several organizations publish free online guides for consumers
who are beginning the funeral-planning process.
The Federal Trade Commission offers "Funerals: A Consumer
Guide" at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/services/funeral.pdf.
AARP, a nonprofit group representing the interests of those aged
50 and up, offers a guide to funeral pricing and planning at http://www.aarp.org/griefandloss/articles/73_a.html.
The Funeral Consumer Alliance's information can be found at http://www.funerals.org/.
Palmer, who started in the business at 15 and is now 48, said
the obituary section is the most popular on his site. There, visitors
have the option of sending condolences or sharing fond memories
with surviving family members by e-mail.
Palmer handles all of the correspondence, weeding out mean-spirited
messages or those from pranksters. Then, in a blend of tradition
and technology, he prints the messages on fine stationery and
sends them to the family.
"I've seen some real special memories come across from people
who probably would never have sat down and written them out in
pen," said Palmer, who also has seen old family battles continue
to rage online.
Other sites offering online memorials include http://www.memorialsonline.com/
Palmer said he also uses the Web to provide anonymous, 24-hour
grief services for his clients.
Such information is widely available on the Web from a variety
of providers, including The American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MBC/MBC_4x_CopingGrief.asp?sitearea=MBC)
and GriefNet.org (http://www.griefnet.org/).
Martin said the Internet enabled him to take care of his biggest
after-death concern by helping him find Renaissance Urn, which
directed him to a funeral home carrying the company's fabric "urn
sleeve," which comes with its own plastic box, in case one
is not provided when he is cremated.
"If it hadn't been for the Internet, I would have had to
go from funeral home to funeral home. Who's going to do that?"